Jordan Ward is an unexpected new favorite of mine. I usually don’t go for the more “pop-y” and energetic side of R&B, but Ward’s sound has captured my attention. His joyful melodies and rhythms, partnered with a wavy ambiance, bring a fresh and inviting feel to his music, making it perfect for relaxing and easy listening. When Ward’s music comes on I can’t help but bob and bounce around no matter the theme, and his new album FORWARD is no different.
I discovered Ward through his collaborations with DMV rapper Joony, a talented upcoming artist making waves in the industry. Joony’s Pretty in Black saw the pair’s first catchy collaboration in “ZOOM ZOOM.” Shortly after, Ward released “IDC (with Joony),” the groovy lead single for his new album. This song perfectly encompasses how well the two mesh, with highlights where Ward provides harmonies over Joony’s melodic verse, which could be appreciated by any music lover around. It is a fun and cohesive song that shows off Ward’s lighter, more lively side.
Before “IDC” appears on FORWARD, Ward introduces the album with the somber “BUSSDOWN”. Here, Ward reminisces on his childhood and worries for the future, ultimately saying that his past is in the past and that he is hopeful for “how all this will pan out.” In the climax of this opener, a voiceover tells him that “that was then, it’s over, you know. You see, baby, they tell you you’re free, but you’re always reminded,” hammering down on the song’s theme: you can’t escape your past but it doesn’t define your future. This song sets the tone for FORWARD, showing Ward’s improved conceptual and lyrical depth that is evident throughout.
Following the emotional and honest “BUSSDOWN,” comes my personal favorite, “FAMJAM4000”. Its wavy, synth style and bouncy drums contrast the song’s darker lyrics, with Ward discussing his broken childhood home and a more recent lost love in two respective verses, with them both coming together in the chorus when Ward says “Can we bring the love back? I know that you’ve been waitin’ so long for it to come home again.” The line works in both situations, asking his dad or his ex-partner to return home, which seems to be a symbol of love for the artist. This song speaks on the importance of family to Ward, and his regret that it is not as together as he would prefer. It was released with a music video giving fans a view into his hometown, St. Louis, and quickly became a favorite.
After a smooth collaboration with Gwenn Bunn on “311,” we get to “White Crocs,” where Ward is joined by fellow St. Louis native, Ryan Trey. The song served as the album’s second single and has a distinct sound compared to the rest of the album, seeing the increasingly popular “plugg” style of production (a subgenre of trap, influenced by popular west coast sounds and sprinkled with heavy 808s) infused with more traditional R&B elements. Trey’s melodies and Ward’s hooks are infectious, making for an addicting song. The song has a cool swagger to it and shows off Ward’s unique sound, setting him apart from any competition.
The album is executively produced by Lido, who also makes an appearance on “PRICETAG/BEVERLY”. He is a close collaborator of Ward’s, working on PLANTAIN KARAOKE!!, a three-track ep of covers dropped on SoundCloud (which may have the sickest cover of SZA’s “Prom” I’ve ever heard). The pair once again shines on FOREWARD.
“DANCE MACHINE” once again proves how well Ward can create such enjoyable, catchy songs, but the following few tracks further cement the depth that he reaches on the album. Ward touches on loneliness in “FLIGHTS,” reluctant violence in “THINK TWICE,” and community conflict in “0495.” He also took a new Frank Ocean-esque vocal approach in this run, which added to the weight of these heavier themes.
Hate the way them drugs took my cousin, oh– Jordan Ward, FORWARD
Hate the way them drugs took my bro, oh
Last time we talked, he called from behind bars (Yeah)
He would probably say, ‘Boy you took that shit far’
I would probably say, ‘Didn’t you know I was just one call away?’
So I’m ‘a do this for y’all”
The title track “FORWARD” is another highlight of the album, serving as the closing track (aside from the two additional bonus tracks). Here, we see Ward dive back into familial themes, but this time rather his relationships with them through the progression of his career. He mentions the pain of seeing loved ones die from drug overdoses or go to jail when he knows he could have helped, saying “didn’t you know I was just one call away,” ultimately taking that pain as inspiration and claiming that he is doing all it for them. In the second verse, he further analyzes the impact of his success on those around him. Ward wonders if he could have set his differences aside with them and had a more positive impact, despite the difficult circumstances. “FORWARD” wraps up the album and its overarching self-reflective themes perfectly.
Jordan Ward had a lot of pressure on him, finding himself in the spotlight after opening for Smino and JID on their tour and performing at J. Cole’s Dreamville Fest, but the proud St. Louis native absolutely delivered on his debut album. It felt effortless yet still intentional, offering one of the freshest sounds any artist has to offer in the music industry. I really enjoyed Ward’s work here and found myself impressed with his artistic evolution. It seems that he gets better and better with each project, so I will definitely be looking forward to whatever he comes up with next.
Jacob Feinberg is a student at the University of Georgia, studying marketing and music business, with hopes to find a career in music journalism or artist management. After years of listening to and studying music, Jacob has decided to share his knowledge and opinion through Vinyl Mag. His favorite genre is rap/hip-hop, but you can catch him listening to basically any genre (r&b, jazz, rock, etc.). Jacob has a deep love for music and artistry, and he hopes to apply that by highlighting Athens's rich music scene and all its talented artists.